J.J. Hardy Poses Strong Threat Among AL East Shortstops, Outlook Still Unclear for Red Sox, Rays

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J.J. Hardy Poses Strong Threat Among AL East Shortstops, Outlook Still Unclear for Red Sox, RaysEditor's note: Didier Morais will review each position in the AL East every day through Feb. 21. This edition highlights the shortstops.

Shortstop wasn't supposed to be a question for the Red Sox earlier in the offseason. With Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie on the roster, the team had the position solidified for at least 2012.

Two trades later, it all changed. Now, the Red Sox will be looking to Mike Aviles and longtime utility man Nick Punto –– who was part of the St. Louis Cardinals club that won the World Series –– to anchor the position.

While veterans Derek Jeter, J.J. Hardy and Yunel Escobar patrol the position in the AL East, the Red Sox and Rays are likely to platoon to start the season.

1. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
2011: 30 homers, 80 RBIs, .269 average, .491 slugging and .801 OPS (129 games)

Hardy didn't unload his first homer of the season until May 10. His third round-tripper didn't sail over the wall until June 1. From that point on, though, the 29-year-old was one of the most sizzling power hitters in the majors. An injury in April limited Hardy from better production, but if he's healthy, he can certainly swing for the fences.

2. Yunel Escobar, SS, Blue Jays
2011: 11 homers, 48 RBIs, .290 average, .413 slugging and .782 OPS (133 games)

The 29-year-old's first full season in the American League proved to be promising. While the numbers are short of the 14-homer, 76-RBI effort that Escobar posted in 2009, the Cuban appears on track to return to that level. With Omar Vizquel around to mentor him, Escobar's defense could improve as a byproduct of the signing.

3. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
2011: 6 homers, 61 RBIs, .297 average, .388 slugging and .743 OPS (131 games)

He's growing older. Despite coming off a strong season where he tallied his 3,000th career hit, Jeter is 37 years old –– and turns 38 in June –– which gave Escobar's ceiling an edge for 2012. But Jeter has overcome the odds with age, earning a Gold Glove in 2010 and clubbing 18 homers in 2009.

4. Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac, SS, Rays
2011 (Brignac): 1 homer, 15 RBIs, .193 average, .221 slugging and .448 OPS (92 games)
2011 (Rodriguez): 8 homers, 36 RBIs, .223 average, .357 slugging and .679 OPS (131 games)

Last year, Brignac had an awful season offensively. But in 2010, Brignac showed he could contribute with his hitting, belting eight homers and totaling 45 RBIs. He'll look to return to that status as he battles it out with Rodriguez. Both are decent defenders, so this job is up in the air.

5. Mike Aviles/Nick Punto, SS, Red Sox
2011 (Aviles): 2 homers, 8 RBIs, .317 average, .436 slugging and .775 OPS (38 games)
2011 (Punto): 1 homer, 20 RBIs, .278 average, .421 slugging and .809 OPS (63 games)

No one knows exactly what to expect from these two. Punto is known more for his defense than his offense. Aviles has only crossed the 100-game plateau twice in his career. After dabbling in the outfield for most of the offseason, Aviles inherits his natural position as an infielder and has a strong bat. It'll be an interesting transition to monitor.

AL East position breakdowns: Catchers | First Baseman | Second Basemen | Third Basemen

Photo via Flickr/Keith Allison

Have a question for Didier Morais? Send it to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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